Asking students to write is one of the most difficult tasks we require. It tasks the writer with managing multiple cognitive functions all at one time: idea creation, organization, word choice, grammar rules, voice, correct sentences, and focusing on a topic. Whew. Writing this myself is taking a lot of hard work!
Because of the load that is placed on the writer, students are more successful when some of the individual tasks are broken down and isolated for them. Teachers do this in a variety of ways. We have them spell check at the end so they can focus on the ideas at the beginning. We have them review their sentences for run-ons or incompletion. We help them to organize in paragraphs. And most importantly, we try to help them with original and complete ideas.
Starting the Brainstorming Process
To help isolate the different skills of writing, we can help students to brainstorm ideas prior to the actual act of writing. There are multiple benefits to this other than just to set aside the “thinking” portion of writing separate from the mechanics of it. For one, visual learners thrive with brainstorming—it helps them to organize in a manner that allows for the visual organization of ideas. Also, brainstorming can be a great segue into composing while using technology. Keyboarding and composing on a device can be especially hard for young students. If they can get some of the work “out of the way” through the brainstorming process, composing an entire essay later on becomes that much easier.
To introduce different ways to brainstorm, the teacher should start by modeling the process for the whole class. Following the model of “I do, we do, they do,” the teacher does the first brainstorming session on his own, modeling the process for the class. Next, the students and the teacher brainstorm together as a group. This could start on the IWB with some teacher examples, or could be done on paper using a graphic organizer of some sort. When it comes to the “we do” portion, the students will brainstorm together. By using a touch screen display, the teacher can show the students how different ideas of the same theme can be reorganized into paragraphs.
Mapping Out Ideas
After the students have been shown how to brainstorm and use graphic organizers or thinking maps, they can create some on their own. Like the examples listed above, these can be done either using technology or on paper. If there are devices available, here are some great apps that could get the students started on showing their thinking visually. Most of these work the same way—there are multiple options for different mind maps or graphic organizer templates that can be used.
The user simply plugs the information into the bubbles or blanks that are provided. Check these out:
- Mindomo: This app has both an educational version and a professional version. It is very easy to use and has multiple options for the types of graphic organizers that can be utilized. It is cloud-based and has a collaborative option, where multiple users can log into the same mind map and edit together.
- Popplet: This is the app I have seen used in the classroom the most (for what that is worth). It feels more elementary than the others, which are more “professional” looking and are probably better for secondary students.
- Mindmaster: This is cloud-based, so it can be used on any type of device. It offers colorful mind maps of all different types, as well as the collaboration components that the others offer.
- MimioConnect: Great website with lots of pre-made templates, lessons, and activities to get the ball rolling when it comes to organizers, diagrams, and maps.
These are apps that I have used or have seen my teachers use. The list of effective sites or apps that allow for great brainstorming options is long, though. There are many others than the few listed here, but these would be a great starting point for getting students thinking and writing in a productive way.
Teaching Students to Collaborate
The final layer to this discussion is to have the students brainstorm in a 21st century environment—and to do so collaboratively. Most of these apps allow for an electronic collaboration, which teachers should take advantage of. In the current workplace and in the workplace of the future, employees will be required to work, think, and brainstorm online with others. This is a great skill to get students started with early, because there requires a diligence and an etiquette that is crucial to effective collaboration.
Hopefully this helps to provide students with a vehicle for thinking and learning that meets their needs. All students and learners are different, but teachers who can isolate the skills of writing can support all types of learners and produce better writers for the 21st century.
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